Jack Foster remembers . . .

I presume you are not interested in how I came, at the age of 13, to be a Vic & Sade fan. Suffice it to say that after WWII and a good many years as an engineer in radio broadcasting, I made a wonderful discovery: some of my friends at the beer-bar across the street from my workplace also remembered it with fondness. This came about one evening when my friend Al Pendeleton and I began reciting "Uncle Fletcher's friends" to each other. We came to a slowdown, then topped each other by hollering in synchronism, "S. Quentin B.H. LaBell, Jr.!" (Later investigation revealed that evidently S. Quentin B.H. LaBell, Jr., who must always be referred to by his entire name, appeared in only one episode.)

Later, I discovered some sources of copies of some of the programs, and got hold of them. My friends and I (now grown to a half-dozen or so) would spend an evening from time to time listening to them, maybe two at a crack, laughing and scratching in high glee.

Then I got in contact with Carl Erickson, a Canadian transplant to Staten Island, who sent me a bunch more.

One evening I heard an "old time radio" program on a Los Angeles radio station (not the one I worked for) which was devoted to V&S. The host played a few episodes, interspersed with commentary from Bill Idelson, the only living participant in the show who lived in the Los Angeles area. I was fascinated, both with the idea of the show, and the character of Bill's voice, which still retained some of the characteristics of the boy, "Rush", who was about my age, and with whose adult vocabulary I had been happily envious.

I said to myself, "Why doesn't someone do a show like that with all the remaining cast members, (all of whom were older than Bill, and Art Van Harvey, who played Victor Rodney Gook, was already dead)?"

Then I said to myself, "Nobody will do that unless I do it myself."

So I called the host of the show on the other station, and asked him how he got in touch with Idelson. He told me, and I talked to Idelson on the phone. He thought I had a good idea, and encouraged me by providing addresses and/or phone numbers for the remaining cast members.

Bill Idelson
Bill Idelson

I got in touch with them and they each agreed to be interviewed about Vic & Sade. I had a three-week vacation coming, so I set it up to see them during that time. I took a portable Ampex and a full box of tape reels and my camera, and set out for southern Illinois, where Bernardine Flynn Doherty (Sade) had her home in a small town. There must have been a touch of suspicion about me, an unknown figure to them, for she had two of her sons with her when I arrived.

Bernardine Flynn Bernardine Flynn and sons Bernardine Flynn's son: Roger Doherty
Bernardine Flynn Doherty Flynn with sons: Bill and Roger Roger Doherty

One was Roger; the other was Bill, another broadcast engineer from Chicago, who brought his own tape machine and recorded in parallel with me. But they were most considerate, and Mrs. Doherty was outgoing and friendly, enthusiastically responding to my queries, and even complied when I asked her to do a couple of "Sadisms," such as "Oh, ish."

I had the notion that I could make the production smoother if I made it seem that they all were together in discussion. To that end, I had composed a list of questions before I left home, and as I went from actor to actor during the trip, I asked them all the same questions. I included Bob Brown, who was a long-time announcer on V&S during its early years, so I went to Lexington, KY, to find that Bob was the one who got the idea of starting the show with the words, "Well, sirů" (What a revelation!)

Bob Brown
Bob Brown

From there I visited some friends in Oxford, Ohio, home of the University, where I became acquainted with their radio instructor, who had some material to give me, and a reference to a man at a nearby Cincinnati radio station, who had some original V&S disks, which he kindly copied for me.

Then off to Chicago, where I delighted in making the acquaintance of Paul Rhymer's widow, Mary Frances, who treated me to a fine dinner and showed me around her office downtown. I have forgotten what her job was.

Mary Frances Rhymer
Mary Frances Rhymer

While in Chicago, I made the acquaintance of Barbara Schwartz, guru to the "Friends of V&S", just being formed, and went to his studio to talk with Johnny Coons, source of the many voices of peripheral characters when V&S made its well-aborted venture into more than the four well-known voices from over the years. (I omitted the young man who played "Russell" during the time Idelson was away in the war, partly because I couldn't find him. But I didn't look very hard.)

Then I went north to Lake Forest, the home of artist Franklin McMahon, who was a friend of Rhymer's and who made the illustrations for Mary Frances' book of V&S scripts, which you may have seen. McMahon gave me a huge "artist's proof" of his rendition of the old Rhymer Kitchen in Bloomington entitled, "Rush Gook's Books." I framed it, and it now hangs in my own kitchen. (It's in the book.)

Franklin McMahon
Franklin McMahon

Then off to another Chicago suburb - I think it was Belvedere - where Clarence Hartzell lived and owned an antique store. Clarence and his wife, Helen, were both very supportive, and Clarence unhesitatingly did some "Uncle Fletcher" re-creations for me. If you hear snaps, crackles and pops in the background when you listen to the thing, it's Clarence's fireplace getting into the act. A few years afterward, Clarence and Helen moved to Texas, and later died.

Clarence Hartzell Clarence and Helen Hartzell
Clarence Hartzell Clarence and Helen Hartzell

From there to Madison, WI was an easy jaunt, and there, based in a motel, I spent two full days going through the Rhymer archives at the University. The lady in charge at first refused to allow me to use my tape recorder in the library, on the grounds that it was forbidden to reproduce any of the archival material. After I explained that I only wanted to lift an occasional howler, she still refused, so I asked her to phone Mary Frances in Chicago for permission, which she got, and then consigned me to the farthest corner for whatever isolation that would give.

My sotto voce remarks into the recorder were no problem, but I did make a few heads turn when I couldn't restrain my own laughter on one or two occasions.

That ended my journey, save for a few personal meetings in the east, and when I got back to L.A. I at once went to interview Idelson in his office (he was then a producer of the original Bob Newhart Show.) We became friends, and later I went to his house in the Palisades to met Seemah, his wife, and a kid or three, and take pictures.

Bill and Seemah Idelson
Bill and Seemah Idelson

I spent the next 6 or 7 months editing the tapes (I had filled the entire box with material.) Fortunately, I had an arrangement with KMPC to only work a 3-day week there, which gave me a lot of time to do this, and some (paying) freelance work for various studios. I needed that time, for it took a passel of editing to rearrange all that material into the format I had originally conceived. For my freelance work, I had a professional editing setup in my office at home, which is where I did the cutting and splicing.

Then I wrote an introduction, which was voiced by Gary Owens, and some continuity, voiced by Bob Arbogast, both of whom worked with me at KMPC. I attempted to keep my own voice out of the thing, and, except for one tiny interjection which I couldn't remove without spoiling the continuity, succeeded.

What to do with the "Tribute," once made, became a give-a-little-take-a-little proposition. The rights to the material were rather indiscriminately shared among Rhymer's estate, the actors themselves, the originating network, and possibly others, so I had no alternative but to offer it free of charge to any radio station that wished to air it. I offered it entirely free to any public station, but for commercial stations, I required that they first sign an agreement not to intersperse or abut commercials, so there could be no misunderstanding about rights. I did not keep track of how many stations aired the thing - this took place over quite a few years - so guesswork is all I have to go on.

The first station to air it was where the guy who gave me the original ingress to Idelson did his program, and from there it took off to some extent. I placed an announcement in the national showbiz paper, whose name I can't recall. Of course not everyone was interested, but many were. It never aired on a station where I was employed until late in my career, after I had returned from a sojourn in Northern California when my wife came down with cancer and died in 1983 and I had to go back to work. There, at KCSN (Cal, State Univ., Northridge) I became chief engineer, and a couple who hosted a weekly "old-time radio" show decided to use my tribute. They invited me to sit in - stretching the airing of the 2-hour tapes to two sessions - and they interviewed me, interspersed during the half-hour breaks in the broadcast. I suppose I said much of what I told you here. I may be able to find a tape of that, but can't be sure either that I'll find it or that it'll still be listenable, what with peeling oxide and all.

Thanks for your interest, and if you have further questions, feel free to contact me. I'll answer them if I can.

Best wishes,

Jack Foster

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Jack Foster (1923-2011)
Jack Morrison Foster
(May 6, 1923 - January 9, 2011)

The photo of Jack Foster provided by
Sandy Bahr, director of the
Sierra Club's Grand Canyon Chapter.